Days of Palestine – Jerusalem
Oxfam International warns in a statement on Monday 4 April 2022 that wheat flour reserves in the Occupied Palestinian Territory could be exhausted within three weeks and the cost of this food staple has surged by nearly 25% because of the Ukraine crisis
“Palestinian households are being hit hard by rising global food prices, and many are struggling to meet their basic needs. The reliance on imports and the constraints forced upon them by Israel’s continuing military occupation, settler violence, and land grabs are compounding the food crisis,” says Shane Stevenson, Oxfam Country Director in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has to import 95% of its wheat but it owns no food storage infrastructure so is forced to rely instead on the Palestinian private sector and Israel’s facilities. Israel in turn imports half of its grain and cereals from Ukraine.
According to the World Food Program, the Ukraine crisis has increased food prices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory such as wheat flour (up by 23.6%), corn oil (26.3%) lentils (17.6%) and table salt (30%), decimating Palestinians’ purchasing power.
Most households in the Gaza Strip are now buying food on credit. Many families are eating less and lower quality of food items. Families are cutting out more expensive food such as fruit, meat and chicken that are necessary for a healthy diet.
The cost of animal feed (wheat bran) is up by 60% in the West Bank. This adds to the existing burden on Palestinian herders who face outbreaks of animal disease, worsening violent attacks by Israeli settlers and forced displacement because of Israeli annexation policies.
To save the livestock sector from collapsing, the Palestinian Farmers Union is urging the government to cancel the VAT on fodder.
Abbas Melhem of the Palestinian Farmers’ Union said: “The sector is on its last breath and needs to be supported before it completely crashes. We have called upon the Palestinian Prime Minister to take immediate action. Farmers in Area C are facing daily attacks by Israeli settlers to push them off their land. With these challenges, especially with the extremely high prices of fodder, livestock breeders cannot stay and defend their lands if no immediate action is taken from our government to help save the livestock sector.”.
Area C – consisting of 60% West Bank territory – is critical to the geographic integrity of the West Bank. Its fertile agricultural lands offer the solution to Palestine increasing its agricultural investments and reducing its dependency on imports. However, Israeli authorities have rejected 99% of all the construction plans put forward to develop Area C.
Mazen Sinokrot, the Regional Director of the Arab Food Industries Federation, said: “Palestine cannot expect to rely on the Israeli food reserves in times of crises. Palestine could attempt to strategically bring to the forefront the political issue of Area C once more into the international arena so that Palestinians may use their land for planting wheat and building their self-sufficiency”.
Oxfam called on the international community to urgently adopt a common and coordinated economic and diplomatic position that challenges Israel’s restrictive policies and allows Palestinians to invest in local food production and infrastructure. It said it believes that the international community must not forget its responsibility towards the Palestinian people, impacted by the policies and practices of an expansionist state operating with full impunity.
The Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute, MAS, told Oxfam: “Effective policies must be taken by the government in order to find urgent alternatives to wheat and flour imported from Russia and Ukraine. This is critical in order to protect poor and marginalized families from rising food insecurity and fluctuations in the supply chain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government must monitor and control prices in local markets and prevent monopoly on basic commodities.”
Even before the Ukraine crisis, more than 115,000 families were registered with the Palestinian National Cash Transfer Program (PNCTP) and received a quarterly payment between 700-1800 NIS (200-500 EUR) from the PA. An estimated 14,000 more poor households are on the PNCTP waiting list, which is expected to rise. However, registered families have not received payments since May 2021 because the PA is in a financial crisis. This is exacerbated by the decision of the European Commission – as the largest donor to Palestine and contributing to roughly 50% of the PNCTP – to continue withholding 214 million Euros in aid to the PA.